NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rocky Long and Mark Hudspeth have enjoyed charmed first seasons in their new head coaching jobs.
Long's San Diego State and Hudspeth's Louisiana-Lafayette each won eight games and collide in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night.
The foundation each started with, however, was entirely different.
The Ragin' Cajuns (8-4) weren't supposed to be anywhere near bowl contention, according to various preseason polls.
they won eight games since Jake Delhomme was a freshman quarterback in
1993 to qualify for their first bowl game in 41 years and first ever as a
Division I FBS program.
The Aztecs (8-4) are in their second straight bowl and seeking a second straight nine-win season.
were picked 120 (out of 120 FBS teams) by one poll, 118 by another, and
don't think I didn't use that," said Hudspeth, who last December left
Dan Mullen's staff at Mississippi State to take his first Division I
head coaching post. "If you don't go to work every day with that in the
back of your mind, you don't have any pride in yourself. I know it got
to me, and I hope it got to those kids, and I think it did with the way
The Cajuns spent most of the season in contention
for a Sun Belt Conference title before finally dropping to third with a
6-2 league record. That was still good enough for a bid to New Orleans,
which is only about two hours east on Interstate 10 from
Louisiana-Lafayette's idyllic red-brick campus, replete with a preserved
portion of swamp habitat, in the heart of Acadiana.
the Cajuns' bowl-starved faithful have snapped up thousands of tickets
and are descending in force upon the Big Easy.
"It's almost like
having another home game," said Cajuns quarterback Blaine Gautier, who
needs one more TD pass to break Delhomme's school record of 20 in a
season. "We're expecting a huge crowd from Lafayette. It's beautiful."
knows what kind of advantage that could be for his opponent. He was
defensive coordinator at SDSU last season, when the Aztecs played in
their home stadium and beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl.
"It makes me really nervous," Long said. "In my opinion, it's exactly the same situation, in reverse.
"I know they don't get the same notoriety as some other schools in this state," Long continued, referring to No. 1 LSU. "But they're a great football team. I don't think they started out that way, but they've gained confidence."
a former head coach at New Mexico, did not have to oversee the type of
turnaround Hudspeth pulled off. Still, Long was part of Brady Hoke's
successful effort to change the fortunes of an SDSU program that had
endured nine seasons without a winning record when they arrived before
the 2009 season. In their second season, they recorded the program's
first bowl victory since 1969. Last winter, Hoke was hired away by
Michigan and Long was promoted.
"Last year was one of those teams
that had a lot of talent, played very well and with each win gained some
confidence," Long said. "This season started with high expectations."
The Aztecs' success this season has stemmed largely from their running game and defense.
Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,656
yards this season, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and became the first
Aztec rusher since New Orleans native Marshall Faulk to string together
consecutive 1,500-yard seasons.
Hillman likes the idea of playing a bowl game in Faulk's hometown.
"Everybody knows if you're going to be a good running back (at SDSU), you've got to chase his records," Hillman said.
The Aztecs' defense led the Mountain West conference in interceptions (14), sacks (28) and tackles for loss (81).
cornerback Larry Parker had seven interceptions, third most in a season
in SDSU history, while senior linebacker Miles Burris led the way in
tackles (72), tackles for loss (19) and sacks (eight).
will counter the Aztecs' defensive pressure with Gautier's mobility (his
464 yards rushing was second on the team) and his ability to make hot
reads to 6-foot-6 tight end Ladarius Green, an NFL prospect with 485
yards receiving and seven TDs.
Hudspeth also hopes his players will feed off the emotion that is bound to permeate the Cajuns' sideline.
of our guys grew up in the Dome watching the Saints, dreaming of
playing on that field," Hudspeth said. "Now a lot of our guys are going
to play their last game in the Dome on that same field."
Tuesday, January 16 2018 2:34 PM EST2018-01-16 19:34:30 GMT
Only On AP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is branching out past NASCAR with NBC Sports. The network plans to use NASCAR's most popular driver at both next month's Super Bowl as well as the Winter Olympics. Earnhardt has never...
Only On AP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is branching out past NASCAR with NBC Sports. The network plans to use NASCAR's most popular driver at both next month's Super Bowl as well as the Winter Olympics. Earnhardt has never attended a Super Bowl before.
Tuesday, January 16 2018 6:58 AM EST2018-01-16 11:58:31 GMT
Novak Djokovic confirms top men's players held a private meeting on the eve of the Australian Open to discuss issues related to the tour, but denied that any talk of boycotting Grand Slams over prize money was ever...
Novak Djokovic confirms top men's players held a private meeting on the eve of the Australian Open to discuss issues related to the tour, but denied that any talk of boycotting Grand Slams over prize money was ever raised.